Monday, March 29, 2010

Author Interview: Swati Avasthi

Joining me today is Swati Avasthi, author of the recent debut SPLIT- a book about family abuse and moving past it.

AGA: What was the idea/scene that sparked SPLIT?

SA: For three years, I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic. I listened to thousands of abuse victims recount the incidents that brought them to us for an order of protection. Once, a woman came in with her two children, a boy and girl. The boy was around 5 or 6 years old and was losing a front tooth. During the interview, he would wiggle it at me using his tongue; he was very cute. His mother was telling me about a particularly brutal incident and so I asked her if she'd like an intern to look after her children. She shook her head, no and said they had seen it, anyway. I was haunted by that boy and by the idea that he had witnessed his father, his role model, beat up his mom. I started to wonder about the children who see that kind of abuse every day. Who does that turn them into? That idea percolated in my head for many years and finally found an outlet in Jace.

In writing this book, I realized that I disagree with the way domestic violence is represented in the media: as a women's problem. Since some statistics estimate that 30% of victims are male and 70% of abusers are male, why are we calling this a problem for women? It seems to me to be a problem for men, especially since the abusers have the clearest line of sight to stopping the abuse.

AGA: Some of the abuse scenes in this book are pretty graphic. Were you influenced from somewhere for them or did they come from your mind?

SA: The scenes were entirely fictional, but they were based on what I learned about abuse from the clinic -- the nature of the escalation from insults, to name calling, to threats to fists. i remember specifically, bracing myself when a weapon -- usually a household tool, like a box cutter -- was involved. I tried to render the scenes of violence with specificity and realism so that the violence wasn't sensational. It felt like the only way to honestly represent what I learned about domestic violence.

AGA: Were any elements of this story based on personal experience or is it purely fictional?

SA: I borrowed settings and finer details from real life. A friend said he knew I was writing about his apartment building because of my description of the hall smelling like a combination of hash and cat piss. I counted that as a compliment.

In terms of experiences, in the book, Jace remembers a time when he would bike beside Christian as Christian went for a run. My dad and I used to do that, me on the bike and him running.

AGA: Do you have a stronger preference for any of the characters than others?

SA: Well, I do love them all, but I'd say Dakota's my favorite. She was a breath of fresh air. Her honesty policy made her particularly fun to write and a nice foil to Jace, who says less than half of what he thinks.

AGA: If you could pair Jace up with any character from any book, what would be your pick?

I'd like to see him hang out with Miles from Looking for Alaska. They could swap quotes and bond over girls they can't figure out.

AGA: What is the most rewarding and the roughest thing about writing and being published?

SA: So far, one of my favorite moments was seeing the book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. It felt so official and real.

The hardest thing for me is striking the right balance between publicizing the first book and writing the second. So far, I haven't been able to manage my time in a way that feels that I'm giving them both the attention they deserve. It's a little like having a second child.

AGA: What's next on the docket for you?

SA: My second novel is currently titled BIDDEN and is about Corey, Holly, and Savitri, who are looking forward to a summer of free running and comic book reading when a shooting changes everything. Now, they are just looking to survive. BIDDEN is about how far we will stretch for our friends.

AGA: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

SA: If any of your readers think they might be victims of abuse, I'd encourage them to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474. Sometimes, it is difficult to know if you are being victimized because abuse generally starts out as a threat, a slap, even something like sleep deprivation, and it can be hard to put a name like "dating abuse" which encompasses such a wide range of abuse. But, since abuse tends to escalate over time, it's better to recognize it early. So, my advice is to call and talk. I believe there are peer advocates at the national Teen Dating Abuse Hotline. And keep in mind, that anyone who loves you, anyone who respects you wants you safe first.

Thanks very much for stopping by, Swati!

Want to know more about Swati, her work in an abuse clinic, or SPLIT? Join us tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 30 at 8 CST for a chat on my book forum! Register here for the forum, chat box is at the bottom of the main page when you're logged in- there's a log in button for the chat box itself at the top right of it.


  1. Nice interview! Split sounds really good!

  2. I love the sound of this one. Lovely interview!

  3. I didn't know that the author had worked in a domestic violence legal clinic. That's an interesting fact :D And I so agree with her on the way domestic violence is portrayed--women as always pegged as the victims and there's even a term for them: that they're "battered wives". People forget that men are also susceptable to violence and that they're not always the monsters.

    Great interview, Kari! I'm definetely picking this up in the future :)

  4. Great interview! This novel sounds so intense, but intriguing...I'll definitely be putting it on my TBR list. :)

  5. Nice interview, this book sounds good!